True North Blog

Improvisation: Important in the Outdoors … And in Life

Whether it is a survival situation, or a medical issue, a recurring theme in dealing with an acute emergency in any remote location is the importance of improvisation.  That’s because rarely, if ever, will we have with us an unlimited amount of resources.  In particular, tools, supplies, and, perhaps most importantly, time, will likely be in short supply.  Most often, we will be forced to make due with what little we may have and in a terribly short of amount of time (thus, making an already stressful situation, even more so).  However, this need not necessarily be too bad — In fact, it could actually be an asset.  We just need to train ourselves to do two things.  First, we need to be able to mentally accept that which we can’t change … Or, as a wise old man once elegantly stated, “Embrace the suck!”  And, secondly, we must learn to be problem-solvers.  It all boils down, then, to being adaptable.

Take, for example, a photographer who got lost at sunset and used his camera flash to signal for help in the vast darkness.  Or, a group of commercial fisherman who, after being adrift at sea for many weeks and having exhausted all of their flares on the first day, had the idea as a plane passed low nearby to discharge a fire extinguisher so that the white CO2 plume would contrast against the blue sea allowing the pilot to see them.

This is a lesson that True North will be teaching to students at Carnegie Mellon University on Friday.  During two separate workshops, its instructors will break the group into teams and task each with a survival scenario which will require them to construct a shelter to protect their “patient” from the harsh winter elements until “help” arrives using only the small amount of components in their “survival kit” (some paracord, a roll of plastic, a ping-pong ball, a few coins and pebbles, and kindergarten scissors), and a few poles and sticks which they can pick from a common pile.  They will then have 30 minutes to complete their task — That is, build a solid shelter that is wind-proof and water-proof.

True North’s goal, though, really won’t be to teach the CMU undergrads how to build an emergency survival shelter.  Rather, it’s goal will be to reinforce in each of the students the value and necessity of improvisation in all aspects and stages of their lives, be it personal, academic, or professional.  That is, learning to accept difficulty and limitation, not as a hinderance, but as an opportunity.  After all, isn’t being adaptable a key component of living Life?

So, as that Wise Old Man also once said, “Just don’t stand there like a pig staring at his wristwatch … Get on with it!”

Wise words, indeed.


Are you interested in how a wilderness survival workshop can help with your school, organization, or company training needs?  Then contact Erik at True North for more information.  True North regularly conducts a variety of outdoor training workshops for many different kinds of groups which offer a great opportunity to foster skill development, camaraderie, and leadership … plus have a lot of fun in the process!

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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